Building sound relationships from scratch

The car stops. Within seconds you’re opening the vehicle’s passenger door and eyeing the driver.

A short conversation ensues concerning the direction and destination of both parties. But in truth the verbal exchange simply masks the more important stuff, because the decision to accept a lift is never a small one. You’re checking out the driver’s appearance and the state of the vehicle; you listen to tone; smell the air. And if they’ve got company, there’s many more judgements to make.

Rugby legend

Sometimes the decision is easy and delightful. For example, whilst hitching north of Aberystwyth I opened the door of a large gleaming Mercedes only to set eyes on a world rugby legend sitting at the wheel. Then there’s the bizarre, like the time I slung back a minibus door to be greeted by a group of singing builders (with an unusual passion for scaffolding) . And of course, the real challenges; when your sixth sense (which is developed through experience) suggests something isn’t right.

And that ‘dynamic’ of meeting new people is the same in business. Entrepreneurs cannot wait for people to come to them. This necessarily means going out to see people and finding yourself in unfamiliar territory and different situations. This stretches the comfort zone and initially puts you out of control, but with practice and experience patterns of behaviour emerge and confidence grows.

It’s accepted that people are typically far less relaxed when they meet others for the first time. These first few critical seconds and minutes can be awkward. But just like the hitchhiker, the entrepreneur has a vested interest in developing their judgement skills, using time efficiently and being liked by people they meet. So get on with it!

Judgement Skills

First opinions about people are typically formed within 7 seconds.  As a hitchhiker I rarely spent much time talking about directions before getting in the vehicle. And I reckon I can count on one hand the lift offers I actually rejected. And these ratios reflect almost exactly my first-time meetings with people in business. Within 10 seconds I’ve decided the person in front of me isn’t a complete lunatic and it’s likely that the time will be well spent.

As with the hitchhiker, it’s important not to just listen to what people say when you first meet them. If you’re in their office what does the rest of the room tell you about them? How well do they dress? How much interest do they really take in you? How do they behave towards others who may be around? Answers to these questions provide clues about the person/people with whom you are dealing and you are able to adjust your own behaviour accordingly. You’ll find many other articles within this Blog that focus on the issue of Human Behaviour.

Getting people to like you

My unexpected meeting with Welsh rugby legend Gareth Edwards (and scorer of the greatest try in rugby history) will live with me forever. But  throughout that memorable journey winding through the valleys, I enjoyed listening to arguably the most talented Welsh rugby player ever to have lived, his take on that famous Barbarians try, how his career started and of course why he picked me up. As such, Gareth did most of the talking and I just listened. This simple dynamic works in a very powerful way and builds relationships because it is based on the following principle:

…the most important person in our own world is ourselves and given the opportunity we typically ‘like’ to talk about ourselves. 

Within the pages of the must read book ‘Influence: Science & Practice‘, author Robert Cialdini devotes a whole chapter to the issue of ‘Liking’. Critically, we like people who take a genuine interest in us and the easiest way to demonstrate this is to ask questions and listen to what people say.

The entrepreneur who bothers to take a genuine interest in prospects, customers, suppliers and staff makes people feel good about themselves and thus builds stronger relationships. By contrast, the person who talks endlessly about themselves falls into a common trap. They bore quickly and struggle to build quality relationships.

As a hitchhiker it was always my way to encourage the driver to talk about themselves. Not only was it interesting to learn about their lives, but they typically drove me further (Gareth very kindly went an extra 20 miles).

However, people are different and some are cautious about revealing information. When I hitched some didn’t want to talk at all. But by tuning into situations it was possible to adopt appropriate strategies that reflected the needs of the individual with whom I travelled.

Key Learning Points: Regularly meeting new people makes you a better judge of others and situations. Actively seek non-verbal and verbal clues to help you assess others and create a positive influence by asking questions and listening to the answers.

[Read more...]

Bootstrapping: My way on the business highway

BootstrappingshoesFailure has a wonderful capacity to reveal opportunities that otherwise remain hidden.

Disastrous ‘A’ Level results in 1984  forced me to take a gap year. Whilst I envied friends destined for university, part of me delighted in the chance to step off the education treadmill… [Read more...]

Getting a lift with good branding

‘Unsafe’, ‘risky’, ‘dangerous’, ‘uncommon’ and ‘unadvisable’ were some of the words that people used to describe hitchhiking in a recent straw poll I conducted.

Okay, it wasn’t scientific research. Nevertheless, I’m fairly sure these negative feelings (or brand perceptions in business speak) are relatively commonplace. Whether it’s justified or not, hitchhiking in the UK has got itself a bad name and it’s perhaps no surprise to see far fewer people on the roads now compared to 20 years ago.

What can budding entrepreneurs learn from hitchhiking’s misfortune?

Brands are like personalities. A key driver of human behaviour is the need to be liked by others; so we shape how we look and come across accordingly. The same principles apply when branding a business.

So the first tip is not to fall into the trap of the ‘me first’ process when creating a brand. It’s too easy to create a name, choose colours, fonts and materials etc. that are based solely around what you as the business owner likes. You need to take into consideration how the target audience will respond and feel.

If you think about and consult your potential customers when considering and developing a brand, your product or service offering is far more likely to appeal to prospective buyers.

More haste less speed

The second lesson is not to rush the process. The brand identity is your eternal shop window; and if the detail is not thought through at the beginning it will look wrong, date quickly and adversely affect trade. The only solution will then be to re-brand and in effect start again which of course costs money and time.

Finally, some people confuse brands with logos. Whilst the creation of a logo typically needs careful thought and attention, it is only a visual representation of your overall brand and thus a small part of the whole branding exercise.

For more information on brand principles take a look at Branding Strategy Insider and Brand Identity Essentials. You are bound to find some great ideas that will help you to build your business brand.

Developing a brand that performs

As mentioned at the start of this article, the two words ‘Hitch’ ‘Hiking’ when used together evoke strong feelings in peoples’ minds. Unfortunately they tend to be negative feelings. Only two days ago a friend said he thought I was crazy when I suggested I’d hitchhike again later this year; there is no evidence to show hitching has become a more dangerous method of travelling. It is all perception, but perception is everything.

So when creating a brand, you are creating a personality for your business. You will naturally want people to react in a positive way to it. For example, if you are developing a hi-tech business you will probably want your brand to evoke the following feelings: cutting edge; reliable; professional; dynamic etc.

Alternatively, if you are looking to start a courier company you will probably want your brand to convey: reliability; speed; no hassle; ease of use etc. And all of this has to be wrapped up in the name, design, use of colours, strap-line, materials; in-fact everything that is customer facing and thus communicates the brand values.

Getting the message absolutely right takes time and money; so there is a good argument for keeping things as simple as possible to start, rather than worrying about too much detail. As your business progresses so the brand can be developed and enhanced in line with feedback and your personal aspirations.

Consistency

Finally, the brands that perform best are ruthlessly consistent – that word again. Think of people’s personalities that you really like and you realise that you enjoy their company because you know where you stand with them – they are completely consistent; unlike people whose behaviour is erratic, leaving you and others on eggshells or at a distance.

Throughout my hitchhiking ‘career’ the brand personality I conveyed at the roadside remained consistent. I always wanted people to see me as a non-threatening, easygoing individual who was travelling with a purpose.  Given the chance, I would always look at the driver and if eye contact was gained (regardless of the Anglo Saxon expressions and gestures I occasionally received) I would smile.

It worked for me and when I go hitching later this year all those principles will be applied again. I look forward to thumbing lifts and travelling far this year…

Key Learning Points: Treat your business brand as a personality and shape it so that prospects and customers see you in a positive light. Being ruthlessly consistent with the brand means your customers won’t be confused about what you do and offer.

The Importance of being focused

Focus1From an early point in my self employment journey I regularly used these 4 questions to help look forward in business and focus on what I wanted to do:

  • Where have I come from?
  • Where am I now?
  • Where do I want to go?
  • How do I get there?

[Read more...]

Why knowing your competitors gives you the advantage

Watford Gap Service Station on the M1 is the only place where I have encountered real competition for a lift. Hitchhiking north from London one sunny Sunday afternoon, I was dropped off at the services only to find myself staring at a long queue of hitchhikers all desperate to travel my way. Buggar! [Read more...]

How market focused businesses go further faster

What is the best question to ask in market research?

When starting up far too many businesses don’t ask any meaningful questions at all. Instead they focus on the product or service they offer rather than the market being served. Research is considered a distraction rather than the guiding light to doing good business – and it’s a key reason why so many businesses fail early on… [Read more...]

Death by business planning?

My decision to hitch that cold, blue-sky October morning, was pure instinct. In fact, if it had been planned in detail, it probably would never have happened.

Stood alone at the Keswick bus shelter not long after a glorious autumn sunrise, I discovered a journey to Nottingham would set me back a whopping £12. Aged 17, that was a lot of beer (1983 – 65p a pint)… [Read more...]

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Entrepreneurship: Introduction

Being entrepreneurial is an attitude of mind. It’s not so much a skill, it’s a way of thinking. It really is that simple and for me shouldn’t be over-complicated because more funds are made available for research.

I’m sceptical and occasionally cynical about the amount of research money that is devoted to the questions: ‘What makes an entrepreneur?’ and ‘Can you teach entrepreneurship?’ A research piece that answers the question ‘How much public funding is devoted to answering these two questions?’ would probably be far more definitive, revealing and eye-watering.

I always think about how and why I became a so called ‘entrepreneur’. The decision to start my first business in September 1989 (aged 23) may be considered a defining moment but there’s far more to it than that. One thing is for sure, I now know the choice to go it alone was inevitable, given who I am and what makes me tick.

So in seeking to understand myself, I’ve raked over my younger years and looked hard for the signs and clues that made self-employment the natural choice. And every-time I do, I find hitch-hiking holds so many of the answers – sometimes in spades.

I started hitch hiking aged 17 and last journeyed with the aid of my thumb just short of my thirtieth birthday. Tens of thousands of miles were covered (mostly in the UK) and I loved just about all of it. I met some extraordinary people, some idiots and even one very well known celebrity. Not once was I assaulted. Nor did I ever get into a vehicle and proceed to beat up the driver; even the limited talents of the occasional driver made me think I was facing certain death.

Over the next few weeks and months I’m going to write about my experiences, the mindset of the hitch hiker and how why I believe the entrepreneur lives in exactly the same space.

Please feel free to feedback your thoughts.

Peter Harrington